‘Jonah From Tonga’ is a mockumentary about a troubled 14 year old boy from Tonga named Jonah who is played, produced and directed by an Australian comedian, Chris Lilley. Lilley, a white man is presented in brownface as a Tongan boy with behavioural problems. After being expelled from High School in Sydney, he is sent back to his homeland Tonga to help get his like back on track. However, he still disobeys school policies and still has his Poly-posse who continues to cover the surroundings with his tag, ‘Dicktation’and his offensive swearing.
The show was seen extremely racist with the use of ‘brownface’ as well as misrepresenting the Tongan community. Fahina Tavake- Pasi, the executive director of the National American Tongan Society, said that the title of the show was initially what brought her interest but after watching it, she found offense in what Lilley was trying to portray.
‘The focus is on Jonah from Tonga. It’s him and his awful lines. It almost speaks to that fact that it stereotypes brown people. When you’re white trying to play brown and have never been in the community, what comes out is the stereotype of what’s underneath that brown paint: a white man’s stereotype, a white man’s racism, a white man’s perspective of our community, a white-man assumption, devaluing, all of that’. – Fahina Tavake- Pasi
There are major inaccuracies within the show that are extremely problematic for Tongan community. The disrespect Jonah demonstrates to his elders, sexual comments and connotations and his indecent swearing are considered to be heavily inappropriate in a traditional Tongan society.
‘The fact that it’s supposed to be representing a Tongan culture. I know even Tongans in Australia would feel the same way- they’re traditionally built on that Tongan Foundation. That’s very inappropriate’ – Tavake- Pasi
Young people began to backlash against the TV show, Jonah From Tonga, posting photos with #MyNameIsNotJonah to ‘stand up to the stereotypes of how Pacific Islanders are being perceived as. The show was controversial in both Australia and America after HBO picked it up and aired it in American in August. Viewership in Australia dropped from 441,000 viewers to just 287,000 by the second episode.
So what do you think about the show? Is it extremely degrading and racist or is it just intended as playful satire?
Law. J 2014, Backlash over Chris Lilley’s Jonah from Tonga as protest movement gains momentum in news.com.au. http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/backlash-over-chris-lilleys-jonah-from-tonga-as-protest-movement-gains-momentum/story-e6frfmyi-1226918651717 visited 14/10/14
Orley. E, 2014, The Brownface Controversy Surrounding ‘Jonah From Tonga’ on ‘Buzzfeed’. http://www.buzzfeed.com/emilyorley/the-brownface-controversy-surrounding-jonah-from-tonga#1yzb49s visited 14/10/14
Youtube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZbf4WfJiko